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Next I removed the CD-120 to insert the Eric-1 speakers into my reference system. Did I mention that Opera also sent along a great-looking pair of $250 stands? They did. Anyway, I originally placed the Eric-1 and stands where the ACI Sapphire XLs had worked so well. Let's just say that I wasn't as impressed with the Eric-1 as I was with the CD-120. Bass was weak, there was an upper midrange prominence and a hole in the lower midrange. I suspected that the Eric-1s were not yet ready for prime time.


I then placed 'em on the floor, face-to-face yet wired in opposite phase to pump pink noise through them for an additional 100 hours. If you're not familiar with this technique, wiring speakers out of phase placed face-to-face will cancel most their output to minimize noise pollution during this break-in procedure. Here I found reason to be impressed. The Eric-1 produced one of the deepest nulls I've ever encountered to indicate excellent driver matching. In order to achieve such a deep null, the output from each of the two speakers must be as close to identical as possible. After 100 hours of additional action, I placed the speakers back in the system. Practically speaking, they sounded just as they had before. For a little perspective, I replaced the Eric-1s with a pair of Silverline SR15 loudspeakers just to see if they'd fair any better. They did. Hmmmm.

I now positioned the Eric-1s by moving them about 1 foot closer to the front wall which placed the rear edge of the speaker about 16 inches from the wall. Bham! The sound was instantly transformed. Suddenly there was bass, the hole in the lower midrange filled in and though a slight upper midrange prominence never really disappeared, the Eric 1 suddenly sounded quite linear. As for the prominence, it wasn't huge and certainly no deal breaker. I'd guess that the speaker probably measures very close to flat through the region where designers often design in a slight to significant trough to mellow out the response. No such attempt from the designers of the Eric 1.
The upside? The speaker has a slightly up-front perspective with an added air of excitement particularly on Rock. Complementing that energy up high was a surprising amount of bass grunt down below. While the speakers had spent the previous week pumping out pink noise, I had spent the same period dialing in a pair of Gallo Reference 3 loudspeakers with the SA bass amp. More on this combo coming soon but let me tell you right now that the bass Anthony Gallo wrings out of those modestly sized and unassuming speakers is amazing. Anyway, one morning I came downstairs prepared to go to work. I had Green Day's American Idiot [Reprise 48777-2] spinning and was impressed by the rhythmic punch on tap. It was hours later at work when I realized that it had been the Consonance Eric 1s, not the Gallos that morning! Sure, the Gallos go much lower but as deep as they go, the Eric 1s were remarkably effective.

I was seriously impressed by the performance of the Chinese vikings. At their price, they look good and have an overall fairly neutral personality. If I was forced to pick a potential nit, I'd guess that some may prefer a somewhat richer, denser and warmer character. But keep in mind what I said earlier about the character of the CD 120, about its rich and full-bodied warmth. After all, we're building to system synergy here.


Next up was the Consonance A120 hybrid integrated amplifier, which now replaced the Bryston 7B ST/Bel Canto Pre2P, a $9K hardware combination. I want to be careful not to overstate its personality. We are talking about degrees of subtlety here after all. But the fact remains that the A120 added a few more degrees of warmth, depth, body and bass. Suddenly I was hearing mid and upper bass that were so full as to approach the more corporeal side of reality.


Next up was the 120 S stereo power amplifier to head into bi-amplification mode. As I removed the straps across the speaker binding posts,
the woofers were still connected to the hybrid amp so I connected up the solid-state 120S to the tweeters. Suddenly there was too much warmth, too much bass and too much murk. I could have pulled the speakers back out into the room and tuned them that way but I chose first to try reversing the job descriptions of the power amplifiers. With the hybrid now driving the tweeters and the solid-state 120S on the woofers, the system revived. The murk was gone, the bass was incredibly tight and the system was back in balance. It now had slam and drive!


Suddenly there was no disputing the 120 S' unusually high damping factor. If I held remaining concerns over the Eric 1's capabilities, they had flown out the window. Here was a system of relatively modest dimensions, price and unusually high build quality that could be arranged less obtrusively in the room than my usual suspects yet sounded amazing. Still forward? Yes but deliciously so as it now was so nicely balanced against a warm midrange and thundering bass. Thundering bass lines? From a 6.5-inch woofer? You bet. Obviously the Eric 1s won’t do pipe organ but as far as they extended, they sounded amazing. Bass drums had excellent slam. Electric bass and cellos had wonderful tonality, body and detail without the artificiality that can sometimes color male vocals higher up in the lower midrange.


The tweeter best serves the Consonance system and the music by remaining in the shadows so to speak. It succeeds by never drawing attention to itself. When you're talking about a sub-thousand dollar pair of speakers, something usually stands out as being sub-par. I've already sung the praises of the bass and the mids. It should come as a pleasant surprise that the treble doesn't spoil the party. By remaining in the shadows -- neither reticent nor overly sweet or hyper-active -- nothing is missing but the Eric is voiced to forgive minor sins in the high end (on the recording or in the electronics). Not that it can expect such sins when mated to its own family of gear. It simple won't thrust itself at the listener.

As a system, I have a few other nits to pick. The first is very small considering the relatively modest cost of the system vis-à-vis the elevated overall build quality and performance: the Consonance system lacked the kind of concrete focus that my admittedly far more expensive system produces. While it did most things right, it sometimes lacked that conjured-from-thin-air concreteness. This is what people who spend more are getting for their money - including from Opera's more expensive tube amps. My second minor reservation concerns the volume control on the A120 integrated amplifier. Though remote control was exemplary, I didn't enjoy the volume control. Achieving a significant change in volume required far too many rotations to make a reviewer comfortable who is secretly prepared to drastically lower decibels at a motion's notice.


Not exactly audiophile fare, the Green Day disc doesn't offer much by way of audiophile magic but if a system can avoid blurring the instrumental outlines and content and not slur its speech, it is doing well. And the Consonance system does well. The soundstage regularly exceeds the width of the speakers and the rhythmic intensity of the music remained completely preserved. The xylophone-like instrument on "Jesus Of Suburbia" as well as the vocal accompaniment both had the kind of intended bell-like clarity to contrast the preceding electronic pandemonium. Had it been veiled in any way, the song just wouldn't work the way it does. Percussion
was reproduced with crisp precision that never sizzled. Electric guitars had good weight and body. You can't ask for much more of this piece as reproduced over this system. It crashes! The opening bass drum riff on "Holiday" sounded bigger, more solid, and weightier than it had any right to and it too succeeded admirably. The electric bass line was completely satisfying as well. Ditto for the beginning of "Boulevard Of Broken Dreams", which appeared as wall-to-wall sound. This system had everything this CD needs to succeed. Everything. "Wake Me Up When September Comes", a somewhat melancholy ballad, succeeded to an even greater extent due to the immense size of the sonic portrait, its clarity and dexterity.


"Smells Like Teen Spirit" and "Breed" were two cuts from Nirvana's Nevermind [DGCD 21425] CD that could have benefited from a touch more bass extension. Nevertheless, "Lithium", 'In Bloom" and "Come As You Are" were completely and satisfactorily produced. In my modestly sized room, the Consonance system played as head-bangingly loud as I could stand. Is this CD really fourteen years old? It could have been introduced yesterday, so thoroughly modern did it sound on this system. Remarkably, there was nothing between Cobain
and me. Tag this CD as another success for the Consonance system. If the Green Day CD crashed, this one crushed. Clean and articulate vocals, crunching guitars, full-bodied and tuneful electric bass combined with the aforementioned rhythmic speed and left precious little to be desired.

Is the Consonance system then perfect within the context of its modest size? Well, nothing is. Pablo De Sarasate's "Concert Fantasy On Themes from Bizet's Carmen for violin and Orchestra, Op 25" from Silverline Audio's Classical Sampler [Pipeline Music] is recorded with a very upfront perspective. Very close. My father-in-law thinks it's way too closely miked and he's right - it's supernatural sounding. But some of that intimacy was lost here. The Consonance stack produced neither the degree of transient snap or edge that better and far more expensive systems produce. My father-in-law would like this. Nevertheless, if it's on the CD, it should come out of the speakers.

Not that the CD is a failure over the Consonance system. It still unleashed the same air of excitement I desire from the disc. String tones were beautifully authentic. Lively and properly illuminated, the CD was produced with a festive flare. Double basses on Brahm's "Hungarian Dances" were so rich and well-articulated, they surprised me a little even at this late stage in the review process. They appeared deep into the soundstage surrounded by cubits of air. Equally wonderful were the strings and horns from Vivaldi's "Concerto in B Minor for Cellos, strings and Continuo" - truly marvelous. At this price, it's nearly miraculous how smooth and well composed this piece came across with nary a hint of grit, grain or glare.

I'm not much of a radio listener. When I'm in the mood for music, I pretty much know what I'm in the mood for. I'm not going to wait for a disc jockey to get around playing it. But when I was offered the T 120 tuner as part of the package, it seemed to make sense that I give it a shot. My initial thought was that $659 isn't chump
change when it comes to tuners. Have you looked at available tuners lately, though? It seems there are two tiers of tuners - cheap plastic boxed jobbies available from mass-market mid-fi companies or the much more expensive tuners from companies that specialize in tuner manufacture at multiples of what Consonance asks for the 120 Tuner. Even as far as cheap tuners go, there aren't many left. On occasion, I've visited big box-mover electronic stores only to find that they didn't stock a single one. When judged against the actual competition, the T120 looks like a pretty good deal to me. I can't imagine anybody buying a Consonance system and going after a different or cheaper tuner. Not only does the T120 share the cosmetics of the line, it shares the same build quality. That's got to be worth something.


I did take an afternoon to put the T120 through its paces and found it to be a very good performer overall. My only nit came with the remote control's fairly small window from which the T120 would receive its commands. As far as sound quality and reception, I'm in no position to compare it to the best available. I can only tell you that it picked up all the usual suspects in my listening area - with a lousy dipole wire antenna. All the stations that I'm used to came in and sounded pretty good. The local classical station (you can usually count on them to not futz with the signal) sounded particularly good, with strong clear bass and clear noise-free highs. For those news junkies like myself, the AM section was easily up to the task of fetching my daily dose of talk-radio and it did so better than any of the radios in the house including my GE Super Radio. All in all, I'd say that the 120 Tuner easily warrants your consideration, particularly if you're considering an all-Consonance system. It seems like a very logical choice.


Summing up
At first blush, I was prepared to declare the CD 120 the star performer of the bunch. The CD 120 has received more than its fair amount of press attention and is indeed a good little player. I can't say that I wholeheartedly agree with prior descriptions but it's an excellent machine. In fact, my disagreements make it an even
better choice for most people, I think. I don't ascribe to it the same honest-to-goodness for-better-or-worse neutrality I've read about. Both within the context of an all Consonance system and when used to replace my own digital gear in my reference system, I found the CD120 to be ever-so-slightly on the warm side of absolute neutrality and can't imagine very many systems where that wouldn't be welcome. If you think digital means cold and sterile, give the CD 120 a listen.

Ultimately, though, I was torn when it came to selecting my favorite piece in the system. If I could keep one and only one piece, which one would I keep? I'm torn between the Eric-1 loudspeakers and the 120S stereo amplifier. I love the way that getting the best from the Eric-1 means that you sit them closer to the front wall than is the case with most speakers. It's just one heck of a room-friendly speaker. At first I assumed that the speaker was a knock-off, incorporating Chinese versions of some very successful elements elsewhere. While that may have been the case during the design process, the execution is what matters and there the Eric-1 is very nicely put together and finished to an unusually high standard for its asking price. More importantly, it makes music. If you're a head-banger on a budget, it makes a lot of music with a relatively small amount of power. If it were able to produce the same kind of focus and image density that my much more expensive favorite monitors produce, it would be a genuine giant killer. As it is, the Eric-1 is a class leader.


When I introduced the 120S stereo amplifier to the system, I was taken aback a little. I expected a little firmer grip on the speakers but figured that much of its true potential would remain mostly unrealized in my modest room. So much power with such efficient speakers - surely the 120S wouldn't get a chance to flex its muscle. Or so I thought. In the end, the 120S is without a doubt the finest relatively high-powered amplifier I've ever heard for less than $1,000. This amp is just so recommended.


Lastly, I've not said much about either the Laday and Billie interconnects or the Joplin speaker cables. I've already gone on for pages here so I don't plan to. But I will say this. They are all very well made and I adore the locking RCAs on the Billie. When I'm advising people who are buying their first system on how to spend their money, I never advise spending a lot on cables and wires. They can always go back later and play around with them in an effort to fine-tune their system. But in the case of the Consonance system, these are absolute no-brainers. Buy 'em, then forget about 'em. The Joplin speaker cable is also very nice. I particularly like the banana connection used. With no expanding/contracting/bending blades of metal, this connector won't loose integrity over the years and like the interconnects, is also very nicely made. While I didn't take the time to compare these cables to others in my possession, when you consider that any system is the sum of its parts and only as good as its weakest link, I'm left feeling really good about recommending them.


Years ago when I reviewed the Opera amplifiers that retailed for about $5,500/pr, I was able to give them a hearty recommendation. Here I am years later having spent a good deal of time with an entire system from the same maker -- soup to nuts -- that sells for roughly the same amount of money as those amps. Stranger still (or perhaps not) is that I can honestly state that I probably got more of a kick out of this system. If that's not what all of this is about, I don't know what is.
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